Nikon D60 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon D60
Resolution: 10.20 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: 3.06x zoom
18-55mm
(27-83mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / No LCD
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in.
(126 x 94 x 64 mm)
Weight: 19.2 oz (544 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $700
Availability: 02/2008
Manufacturer: Nikon
10.20
Megapixels
Nikon F APS-C
size sensor
image of Nikon D60
Front side of Nikon D60 digital camera Back side of Nikon D60 digital camera Top side of Nikon D60 digital camera Left side of Nikon D60 digital camera Right side of Nikon D60 digital camera

Nikon D60
Overview

by Dave Etchells and
Shawn Barnett
Review Date: 6/10/08

The Nikon D60 has a sensor resolution of 10.2 megapixels, and offers ISO sensitivity ranging from 100 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this to ISO 3,200 using the Hi-1 setting. In many respects, the D60 is a clone of the preceding D40x model. As we'll see though, the Nikon engineers have added a number of new features and enhancements. The combination probably isn't enough to entice D40x owners to upgrade, but owners of the 6-megapixel D40 might want to, and the Nikon D60 makes a really excellent entry-level model for those just making the move to an SLR. Even for established photographers, the D60 is a pleasure to use, making a great second (or even first) body.

The Nikon D60 has a 2.5" LCD display with 230,000 pixel resolution and a 170 degree viewing angle, which means your friends can gather 'round behind you and everyone will see the same image quality wherever they're standing. Other D60 features include extensive (and newly expanded) in-camera image editing, a full array of automatic and manual exposure modes, including some modes tuned for specific situations, like Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close up and Night portrait. There's an Auto ISO mode that lets the user select the maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed, which leaves you with some control over what Auto can do. Like the D40 and D40x before it, autofocus is only supported when using AF-S or AF-I lenses, which limits you to newer Nikon lenses. The built-in i-TTL flash has a guide number of 12m /39 ft. at ISO 100 in auto modes and 13m / 42 ft. in manual. Maximum flash sync is 1/200 second.

The Nikon D60 uses an EN-EL9 lithium-ion rechargeable battery, with a rated 500 shots per charge, and stores images on SD/SDHC memory cards (not included). Connectivity includes USB 2.0 high-speed, A/V out, and the option of an infrared remote.

The Nikon D60 started shipping in February 2008, priced at US$749.95 bundled with the new 18-55mm VR (vibration reduction) lens, slightly cheaper than the previous D40x model, despite the better optical quality and inclusion of VR on the lens. Nikon USA has since dropped the price to $699.95.

 

Nikon D60
User Report

by Dave Etchells & Shawn Barnett

The story of the Nikon D60 actually begins back in the fall of 2006, with the introduction of the six-megapixel D40, a compact digital SLR with good quality, an affordable price, an easy-to-use interface and image quality that belied it's entry-level pricing and control design. Nikon followed the D40's introduction with a second model, the ten-megapixel D40x in Spring 2007. Together, the two models bracketed the competition, with the D40 priced low and the D40x offering a higher megapixel count for only modest increment in price.

Now, in Spring 2008, Nikon has announced the D60, essentially a "freshened up" version of the D40x, with most of the same core attributes and capabilities, but a host of improvements as well, some of them fairly significant. Along with the D60, Nikon also announced a new version of the 18-55mm kit lens, this time adding Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction, Nikon's name for image stabilization) technology to an already competent kit optic.

What's the same. Happily, the D60 carries forward many of the things we liked so well in the original D40 and subsequent D40x. The Nikon D60 is easy to use, presenting a very friendly face to the neophyte photographer, while still allowing experienced users to do most anything they want with the camera. The D60 maintains the same body design and control layout as the earlier models, with a grip that's remarkably comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes. Best of all, image quality is, if anything, improved. Bottom line, this is another excellent model for Nikon in the entry-level DSLR derby, excellent in virtually every aspect.

As with the D40x before it, the only external difference in the Nikon D60 is the D60 badge on the front panel. Apart from that, there are no physical differences to distinguish the D60 from its forebears. Likewise, its exposure and autofocus (AF) systems are the same so it has the same 1/200 second flash sync speed as the D40x, as well as the same 3-point AF system, and the same 3.0 frame/second continuous shooting speed.

The D60's basic imaging characteristics are also very similar to those of the D40x. It has the same color rendering as the D40x; specifically, a bit more saturated than we personally prefer, but with an easy-to-access saturation control that lets you dial down the color to suit your tastes. Detail is excellent and high-ISO performance appears to be on par with the D40x too. (That is, it's very good, with ISO 1,600 images usable for prints as large as 8.5 x 11 inches.) The one significant difference we found in our testing of the D60 was that its dynamic range wasn't quite as great as that of the D40x, which had the best dynamic range in its camera-generated JPEGs of any camera we'd tested to date. The D60's dynamic range is still really excellent though, among the very best, surpassed only by the Canon EOS-5D and the amazing Fuji S3 Pro.

Nikon D60: What's new

Continuous-Mode Burst Length. One area where advancing technology has helped the D60 is in its maximum burst length in continuous mode. While the D40 could go almost forever when shooting JPEG images, the D40x was limited to a burst of 7 shots before it would have to pause to wait for the memory card to catch up. With a sufficiently fast memory card, Nikon rates the D60 as capable of up to 100 JPEG shots without pausing, or up to 6 RAW ones. In our own testing with a Kingston 133x SD card, we confirmed the 6-shot RAW buffer capacity, but only tested the JPEG capacity as far as 20 frames in series. Few users will need a 100-shot capacity, but we've often found need for more than 7 shots in a series, so the increased buffer capacity of the D60 is welcome.

Dust Reduction. One significant addition to the Nikon D60 is the dust-reduction system first introduced on the D300 SLR in summer of 2007. Many cameras now sport dust-reduction systems of various kinds. Most involve some means of shaking the low-pass filter that covers the sensor at a high frequency. The theory is that this will cause lightly-adhered dust to simply fall away, to be captured on adhesive surfaces within the mirror box assembly, placed there for that purpose.

Nikon's approach to dust reduction also involves shaking the low-pass filter, but differs from other systems in that the shaking occurs in a front-to-back direction, rather than side-to-side. The Nikon system also uses four separate resonant frequencies, to obtain maximum effect across the entire frame area. We haven't managed to come up with any definitive way of testing anti-dust systems, but Nikon's approach offers at least the possibility of better performance: The image comes to mind of shaking out a rug, rather than rapidly sliding it back and forth on the ground. One last wrinkle: Nikon reps also mentioned that the airflow within the mirror chamber has been modified to circulate air past a capture receptacle whenever the mirror is actuated.

While we can't yet claim to have developed a definitive, repeatable test for dust reduction, we can say pretty unequivocally that we've yet to find any anti-dust system that can truly eliminate the need for occasional sensor cleaning. Systems and camera designs that reduce the incidence of dust problems can certainly help matters, but regardless of the dust-reduction system your camera might be using, sooner or later, you're going to need to use some sort of a swab- or brush-based system to clean dust from your camera's low-pass filter. Novices needn't despair, though: This isn't nearly as difficult as most people suppose. In our lab, we use the "Copper Hill Method," which had the advantages of excellent effectiveness, low materials cost, and the availability of excellent instructions online.

Active D-Lighting D-Lighting is Nikon's name for their automatic contrast-adjustment technology. It evaluates images and intelligently cuts brightness in highlight areas and boosts brightness in shadow areas to preserve subject detail and deliver better-looking photos. D-Lighting has been a Retouch menu option on Nikon cameras for some time now, being applied in playback mode to previously captured images. Beginning with the high-end D300 SLR though, Nikon introduced Active D-Lighting, which applies the D-Lighting processing on the fly, as the images are being captured. The Nikon D60 for the first time moves this technology down into a consumer model.

D-Lighting is for the most part subtle in its effects, but it does work, and seems to work well. Using it requires a bit of time for the camera to process each shot, so you'd not use it for sports or fast-paced action. Also, as noted in the example below, there may be times when you want to blow out highlights or plug shadows, for specific artistic or compositional effects. On the whole though, we think the D60's Dynamic D-Lighting is a feature that a lot of casual shooters will appreciate, as it will help with a lot of the difficult lighting situations amateurs often have to shoot in. (Harsh, noonday sun for vacation snapshots, etc.)

No D-Lighting D-Lighting
The Active D-Lighting feature on the Nikon D60 does a good job of balancing exposure between highlight and shadow areas. Here, the terribly blown-out background is held at least somewhat in check, while midtones are smoothed out a bit. You still need to decide when to use it or not: In this case we might have wanted to blow out the background, to emphasize the subject more.

The D60 makes it easy to apply Dynamic D-Lighting on a shot, you simply press the button just behind and to the left of the shutter button and turn the command dial. The status of the Dynamic D-Lighting option is shown at all times on the rear-panel LCD or in the viewfinder while you're changing it.

Click to view movie. AVI player required.

Test tech Rob produced the little movie linked above. Not timeless art, but it gives you the general idea. (Click to download 2.2MB AVI file.)

Stop-motion movie. The Nikon D60 also sports a fun feature we've enjoyed on digicams before, but it took Nikon to bring it to SLRs. First appearing on the high-end D300, stop-motion movies come down market in the D60. The feature is surprisingly flexible: You can take any number of individual exposures and combine them into a movie, with a choice of three final frame sizes (640x480, 320x240, 160x120) and four frame rates (15 fps, 10 fps, 6 fps, 3 fps). Producing an animated movie is simple and a lot of fun: Collect an array of objects, plan a series of motions for them, then snap a series of photos, moving the objects in small increments between shots. When you're done, use the Stop-Motion Movie option on the Retouch Menu to assemble them into a continuous movie, saved as an AVI file.

The eye-sensor on the D60 is a welcome addition, automatically turning off the LCD display whenever you bring your eye to the eyepiece.

Eye sensor to turn off LCD display. One new feature we immediately appreciated on the D60 was its inclusion of an eye sensor that turns off its rear-panel LCD display when you bring the viewfinder up to your eye. You could turn off the D40x's display by pressing a button, but the automatic operation of the display on the D60 is a welcome addition. This is a feature that some of the D40x's competitors have had for a little while, it's nice to see it show up in the Nikon D60.

RAW Processing in-camera. RAW files capture all the information originally seen by the sensor, and save it without modification for later processing a computer. In a very real sense, they can be thought of "digital negatives", from which you can "develop" your final images. RAW format is quite popular with more advanced users, but even relative novices are getting into the game. In the D40x, you could shoot RAW only or RAW plus a basic-quality JPEG. The D60 retains those options, but lets you "develop" RAW files into JPEGs (of any quality level) in-camera, via an option on the Retouch menu.

The RAW Processing option on the Nikon D60's Retouch menu lets you process RAW files into JPEG images, applying almost any setting you'd use in snapping a photo. White balance, contrast, even exposure (within limits) can all be adjusted.

Actually, the RAW processing of the D60 goes quite a bit further than simple JPEG conversion. You can select the image quality (Fine, Normal, or Basic), image size (Large, Medium, or Small), white balance (auto, incandescent, seven kinds of fluorescent, sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade), Exposure Compensation (+/- 3 EV) and any of the Optimize Image adjustments (softer, vivid, more vivid, portrait, black & white and Custom, which lets you change sharpening, contrast, hue, color mode (sRGB or Adobe RGB) and saturation. Phew. In a nutshell, you can take a RAW file and apply pretty much any combination of camera settings to it, rendering the result as a JPEG. Pretty cool!

Quick Retouch, Expanded filter effects. In-camera retouching has been expanded in several other areas of the Nikon D60 as well. The Quick Retouch function combines D-Lighting, Saturation and Contrast adjustments into one control, with options of Low, Normal, and High. Think of it as a "universal enhancifier," able to take underexposed, blah-looking images and punch them up quite nicely, without (in most cases, at least) making them look overdone or over-processed.

The Filter Effects menu also offers a number of new effects, including Red, Green, and Blue intensifiers and a Cross-Star filter. The intensifiers do just that: They make any corresponding color in the image more intense, without affecting other colors. The Cross-Star filter mimics the diffractive "stars" that appear around small highlights with some lenses, or that can be created by the addition of a front-element filter on any lens. The D60 lets you choose the intensity of the star effect and the number and length of the rays, and apply the effect to any already-captured image on the card. Like all the retouch menu options, the Cross-Star filter makes a new copy of the image with the effect applied, rather than modifying the original. It's an interesting effect, but to our eyes it always looked artificial, not the result of an optical process as would be the case with a front-element star filter.

LCD shooting display rotates when camera does. This is a minor tweak, but a welcome one nonetheless. When you rotate the D60 from a horizontal to vertical orientation, the rear-panel data display rotates along with it. We'd seen this in other maker's SLRs already, it's nice to see it on the Nikon D60 too.

Classic Display Graphical Display

An orientation sensor is another convenient addition to the Nikon D60: When you rotate the camera, the rear-panel display changes orientation as well.



Nikon D60 Nikon D80
What's missing from the D60 is the physical coupling you see on the Nikon D80's mount at right. This makes the D80 compatible with lenses that use Nikon's 20-year-old AF drive mechanism. Compatibility's great, but the old system does make more noise than the AF-S system used by the D60.

Compatibility. As with its predecessors, there is one point that owners of older Nikon lenses should know right up front: The D60 was designed to work primarily with AF-S lenses and AF-I teleconverters. The Nikon D40, D40x, and now D60 are built specifically for entry-level consumers, and abandon compatibility with the majority of Nikon's older AF lenses. This is the key important distinction that everyone, especially enthusiasts, should know about the D60. Though you can still mount old lenses and focus manually, most older lenses require a body-based screw-drive mechanism that the D60 lacks. We feel that this was a wise move on Nikon's part to help keep the price low and the camera small, but we've occasionally missed that compatibility, especially when wanting to mount a prime (non-zoom) lens on this pleasantly small SLR. In January of 2008, Nikon announced a 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with their AF-S ultrasonic motor, but this is at the other edge of what we'd count as a "short" lens. (Shawn typically carries a small SLR with a 50mm prime attached as his everyday camera; he prefers the low light performance and reduced depth-of-field possible with such an arrangement. Given the 1.5x crop factor of most consumer SLRs' sensors though, that lens is closer to a 75mm on a 35mm film camera: It's more of a short tele. We'd like to see an AF-S Nikkor lens more in the range of 30-35mm, for use as a "normal" lens when the crop factor is taken into consideration.)

Those who still want to use legacy lenses in autofocus mode, many of which are still in the Nikon lineup, should opt for the D80 (or a used D50 or D70). Note that you can still use older lenses with the Nikon D60 if you're okay with manual focus. The D60 can still control aperture on lenses marked D and G, and it will illuminate the AF points when an area is in focus. For more complete detail on this relatively complex issue, see the Optics section of this review.

I think it's a safe bet that most Nikon D60 owners will prefer the quieter, more modern AF-S lenses that are currently 32 in number, plus three teleconverters.

Manners. Not since the days of cloth focal plane shutters have I heard such a soft shutter sound as we get with the D40, D40x, and now the D60. Nikon has been getting better and better at this aspect of their SLR cameras, and the D40/60 line surpasses them all. It's not critical to have a nice soft shutter sound, but it does much to foster appreciation among users, and even subjects. Harsh clacking and winding is really more distracting than appealing. A softer sound allows the photographer to be part of the background rather than the center of attention. One exception to this rule is when photographing models, when it's helpful for the model to know when to change poses, but that's far from the Nikon D60's intended market.

The Nikon D60's pop-up flash is fairly quiet too, releasing with a single "clack;" more tame than the Canon Rebel XTi's far louder "zing/clunk." It can be released manually via the button on the left of the lens mount, or automatically by the camera when in fully automatic modes.

The Nikon D60's 18-55mm VR AF-S lens also focuses very quietly, thanks to its Silent Wave Motor. I found it a very useful and reliable lens. Coupled with the D60's excellent high ISO performance in low light, its f/3.5 maximum aperture wasn't that much of a limitation.

Very little flare, quite a bit less than we saw with the D40x's kit lens. There's still some flare present to be found when faced with extreme backlighting (as in the tree branches above right), but the bottom line is a dramatic improvement over the previous kit lens.

One big bonus with the D60 relative to its predecessors is its kit lens. The Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VF AF-S DX has the same focal length and aperture range as the previous model, but adds Vibration Reduction (Nikon's name for image stabilization) for sharper photos under dim lighting conditions. Possibly even more significant though, is that the new kit lens almost entirely banishes the problems with lens flare we found in the previous version. With the previous 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II, lens flare was very noticeable around high-contrast objects, particularly in the corners of the frame. We said we felt that flare was acceptable (or at least not a great surprise) in a lens at such a low price point, but we did find it very distracting in many of our shots. Happily, the new lens makes dramatic strides in this area. There's still some minor flare visible if you confront it with really strong backlighting, but it's dramatically better than what we saw in the earlier model.

Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) is a very popular lens/camera feature, and with good reason: When you're shooting at slow shutter speeds, camera shake can easily blur an otherwise priceless photo. VR isn't a panacea, but it can easily give you another stop or two (a factor of 2 to 4) of slower shutter speeds without being subject to blur. As of this writing (in late May, 2008), we're still refining our image stabilization test protocols, and haven't tested the D60's kit lens yet. Just playing with it informally though, its VR does seem to provide a significant reduction in blur at slow shutter speeds.

Comfortable grip.

Experience. Like the rest of the D40/D60 line, the D60's grip is notably comfortable. Shawn and I both would prefer a little deeper grip, but what's there is fine for a camera this compact, and the smaller grip size does a lot to make the camera comfortable for women, children, and others with smaller hand sizes. As it is, our index fingers find the shutter release immediately, our other fingers wrapping around the reset of the grip comfortably. Shawn manages to get three fingers around the grip, I personally find the last knuckle of my ring finger curling below the bottom of the camera, my pinkie tucked in against my palm and not interacting with the grip at all. Normally, this would bother me, but in the case of the D60, it feels quite natural and very secure.

On the back of the camera, the combination of a slight lip and indent provides a natural home for your thumb, nestled between the AE/AF-lock button and the Command Dial. It's just a nudge one way or the other to reach either of these controls, easy to accomplish without devoting conscious thought to it.

Turning back to the top panel again, the exposure compensation button is just behind the shutter release, with the button dedicated to Active D-Lighting just to its left. Both of these are easy to access with the camera held to your eye, with none of the fumbling around we sometimes experience when trying to shoot new DSLRs without taking our eyes from the viewfinder. One user-interface note though: Both controls are set by pressing the associated button while rotating the Command Dial. Readouts in the viewfinder tell you very clearly the setting changes you're making when you're looking through the eyepiece. The rear-panel LCD is likewise very informative about changes in exposure compensation, but the icon that signals changes in the D-Lighting setting can be hard to pick out in some of the "Graphic" display schemes. While the other icons dim when D-Lighting is being set, the effect can still be a little subtle: Why not make this icon flash or get bigger when you hit the D-Lighting button? It'd make operation a bit less mysterious for beginners or others unfamiliar with the camera.

All in all though, it's hard to find fault with the Nikon D60's user interface: It's a very straightforward, simple system to learn to use, with controls right where your fingers expect to find them, and with a very logical operating scheme.

Thumb dial?

On the D40x, Shawn often found himself changing the Mode dial setting by simply sliding his thumb up to spin it to its next setting. On the D60, we found the Mode dial a little stiffer than it was on the D40x (at least on our samples of both cameras), so we more often found ourselves gripping the dial with our fingers to move it. Not a big deal; Shawn found the D40x's dial a bit easier to use, Dave tended to grab it with his fingers anyway.

Recessed strap loops.

Shawn seldom uses camera straps, so the lashing points on the camera often bother him, jutting out into his hand or swinging around as they often do. But the strap loops on the Nikon D60 are recessed into the camera body on both sides, a welcome change from previous Nikon DSLR designs, which either flop and rattle on the pro end or jab into your hand on the consumer side. (By contrast, Dave uses camera straps pretty consistently. He likes the fact that the D60's strap lugs have a deep enough recess behind them that it's actually feasible to get a strap threaded through them. On some cameras, it's a real exercise in frustration to get the strap threaded through the loops.)

Function button. As we did with the D40x, we set the D60's Function button to ISO, which we change most often.

Controls. The Nikon D60's control layout is simple and easy to adapt to. We even like the position of the Function button. This is a button you can reprogram to bring up your most frequently adjusted menu item. We currently have it set to ISO. Just press the Function button on the side of the lens with your left thumb and turn the Command dial. The status display lights up the Fn box and you can see the ISO numbers increment up or down. We also like the positioning of the Fn button relative to the Flash button, located just above it: There's plenty of space between the two controls, so you're never in danger of confusing one with the other when you're working quickly. One thing that we did miss though, was a readout of ISO in the viewfinder: As it is, you have to take your eye from the viewfinder and look at the rear panel to tell what ISO setting you've selected.

Easy adjustments.

A good many other essential items are shown on the Nikon D60's Status display, and can easily be controlled with only a few more buttons. Just press the Zoom/info button, and select the icons across the bottom or right side of the screen with any of the four arrow directions on the Multi selector. When you reach the one you want, hit the OK button in the center of the Multi selector and a menu is displayed with photographic examples representing the various modes. Make your selection, press the OK button again, and you're ready to shoot with your new setting. The example shots are very much like those we've seen on consumer digicams over the past few years, and it is appropriate to see them here on the Nikon D60, an SLR aimed at consumers.

LCD. The screen is a big, bright 2.5 inch display with a wide viewing angle in all directions to help you show off your pictures. The camera itself is so small that the screen seems to dominate the Nikon D60's back panel.

We're once again happy to see that there's no silly snap-on screen protector in the Nikon D60's box. They fog up, add two extra surfaces to reflect glare, and just bug us. We're told the screen cover is good for protecting the screen from shirt button scratches. Our usual nylon buttons don't mar anything, but we suppose harder buttons might. To this day, however, we've never even seen a scratched LCD display on an SLR; so just be aware, use the care you should with your delicate photographic tool, and you should be able to maintain a scratch-free LCD cover glass with little trouble.

Most SLR manufacturers have ditched the additional monochrome data-readout LCD in favor of using the main color LCD as a status display on their consumer SLRs. About half have also recognized that it helps to have the LCD turn off when you put the camera to your eye. With the D60, Nikon has finally joined that half. (Hurray!) The Canon Rebel XTi and Sony A100 have IR sensors in place to detect your face against the viewfinder so that the screen shuts off. The Nikon D40x just kept the LCD on until you half-pressed on the shutter button, but the D60 now has IR sensors like Canon and Sony's. It's perhaps a minor point, but a refinement we're happy to see, nonetheless.

Graphic display.

If you like, you can turn off the D60's status display, which Nikon calls the Shooting Information Display. On by default, it goes off after a few seconds at idle, to save batteries, and comes back on when you press the Active D-Lighting/Reset button behind the Shutter release button, the Info or Help buttons on the rear panel, or touch lightly and release the shutter button. You can choose among three displays, and pick different ones when in PASM vs full-auto and Scene modes. The Graphic display is set by default. It shows a wheel in the left corner that represents a shutter speed dial and aperture display. The aperture display "stops down" to approximate what the lens blades will be doing, while a row of dots around the aperture give an approximate idea of shutter speed (more dots = faster shutter speeds). It seems like a good idea to educate those who are unfamiliar with how cameras work, though they'll have to be the types who pay close attention to technical details. You can also have pur own picture on the LCD screen, appearing behind the controls as a backdrop in Wallpaper mode. For the most part, I prefer the Classic display, with its no-nonsense, bold digital display of the important data. It looks essentially like the monochrome Status LCDs you'll find on semi-pro and pro SLRs.

Classic display.

On the D40 and D40x, we found the LCD display rather slow to refresh as you changed settings. This included aperture, shutter speed, and EV (exposure value) settings. In the Nikon D60, the display seems to update faster in Graphic mode, but we found the exposure compensation indicator still lagged the control wheel movements somewhat, frequently causing us to overshoot the mark we were aiming for. When attempting to set -1/3 EV, for example, the camera wouldn't make the change, so we'd turn the Command dial again. Then the camera would catch up and move it to -2/3. The LED display in the optical viewfinder doesn't have this problem, however, moving instantaneously to reflect your choice. This is an unfortunate bug that makes using EV adjustment and manual modes with the Nikon D60 more difficult in the Classic display mode than they need to be. (This seems like it's just an oversight in the firmware: After a little fiddling, it seems clear that the EV indication only updates in Classic mode when the "0" at the center of the scale blinks on. By contrast, the display seems to update more or less immediately in Graphic mode. Hopefully, Nikon will issue a minor firmware update at some point in the future to fix this.)

Optical viewfinder. Luke, the lab technician, and Shawn both found the diopter control difficult to set, while Dave was less troubled with it. (Likely because Dave has a longer fingernail on his right thumb, making it easier for him to reach in under the eyecup.) We also noticed that the D60 didn't adjust for our eyesight well enough (which isn't unusual for Shawn and Dave). Rather than the wheel Nikon used on the D200 and D80, the D60 has a slider next to the rubber eyepiece. Changing it while looking through the viewfinder can be cumbersome, and you frequently slide past your desired setting due to the force necessary to move it in the first place.

The viewfinder display is very good, showing all the important information, including which AF point is selected, and there's a little question mark icon that flashes in low light or any other situations the Nikon D60 thinks you should make an adjustment. To see what's up, just pull the camera from your eye and press the question mark button on the left of the LCD display. Here in our offices, it usually says, "Lighting is poor; flash recommended." We think that's a good feature to have in a consumer camera, and the note's not condescending. What we don't like is the incessant flashing of the question mark in the viewfinder and on the back LCD when we're trying to do something unconventional. It's not a big deal, though, just a rant, but one that enthusiasts might want to make note of: the D60's help feature just might bug you.

AF points. Praise the designers for putting bright LED brackets on all three of the D60's AF points. Even the excellent Nikon D80 still has the very cool looking, but too often worthless LCD/faint LED combo. We like a bright red LED to tell us where the camera is focusing, as exists on the entire Canon SLR lineup. These are big, obvious brackets. And yes, there are only three, but we've all somewhat fallen out of love with multiple AF points on SLRs. Much more frequently these days, we just lock a camera to its center point and work from there. The center point is usually more accurate, and we find that SLRs just aren't as accurate as digicams have been at guessing what we want to keep in focus.

There is one small problem related to AF points and the Nikon D60's size that Shawn found in the D40x, and that carries over to the D60. As mentioned, we prefer to lock it to the center AF point, but putting the D60 into Single Area mode is the only way to set this. Unfortunately, you can't exactly lock it to the center point; instead you use the left and right arrows on the Multi-controller to select which AF point you want to use. Because the area for your thumb on the D60 is small, he found that he often accidentally presses the left and right arrows on the Multi controller, changing the default AF point. That's a bit unwelcome when you raise the camera to your eye for a quick candid portrait and the D60 focuses on the subject's belt. Most casual users will doubtless do better to leave the D60 in Closest subject mode.

Solid SD card door.

Doors and latches. The Nikon D60's SD card door opens with a firm slide to the rear, then it swings open under power of a good stiff spring. A rubber bumper softens and quiets its impact. We like this design more than others that just flop around loose.

Stronger springs hold the battery in place.

Nikon also improved the battery door and its retention spring. The Nikon D70 and D80 had weak, mushy springs on their latches, and could open if you pressed in the just the wrong way on the bottom of the camera. Not so with the D60. The latch is is quite firm. Once that door is open, the battery seems to slide right out. But it only drops out about 3/8 inch, at which point it stops. This is just enough for you to grab the battery and pull it out the rest of the way, yet you don't have to worry about the battery popping out onto the floor. Nice. We noticed that the battery of the D70 and D80 were halted in the same way, but it was a thin wire that did the arresting, leading us to wonder how long that would last. On the D40x and D60, the arresting is done by a wide bit of spring steel. That should last longer.

I've also found the battery life to be quite good, enduring several days of regular shooting. According to CIPA standards, the Nikon D60's 1,000 mAh EN-EL9 is good for about 500 shots on a single charge with the VR lens (520 with the non-VR 18-55mm), up from 470 shots with the non-VR on the D40x. The manual says it'll recharge from empty in 90 minutes, but we still recommend a second battery: It's a drag to be without your camera while you wait for the battery to charge; and the battery invariably dies when you need it most. The best news, though, is that most lithium-ion batteries can sit charged for a long time (often a month or more) and still be good when you need them.

Flash. As with the D40x, it's a small step down that the Nikon D60 doesn't have the D40's 1/500 second flash sync, especially since none of these cameras support FP (Focal Plane) sync mode. As we mentioned, the reason the D60 doesn't have this speedy x-sync is because it uses a full-speed shutter mechanism, rather than relying on electronic "gating" of the sensor array.

Put simply, gating a sensor means that you're making the exposure by opening the shutter completely, then turning the sensor on and off at the speed you desire. In the case of the D40, the maximum gate speed is 1/4000 second. But why is the flash sync speed reduced on the D40x and D60? Because to make a flash exposure, the shutter must be completely open while the flash fires, and the fastest speed that allows this is 1/200 second. At 1/250, the second curtain of the focal plane shutter has already started closing before the first one fully opens, so when the flash fires, part of the sensor will be covered by one or the other of the shutters. So between 1/250 and 1/4000 second, the shutter never fully opens, and is instead an increasingly narrow slit that travels across the sensor. (There is often a way to overcome this with external flashes, which pulse as the slit travels across the sensor, but the D60's on-camera flash is not capable of this FP, or Focal Plane mode, nor does it support external units in FP mode: The latter an obvious de-featuring of the camera to encourage more sophisticated users to opt for the more expensive D80 body.)

The other missing component to the D60's flash picture, shared by the D40 and D40x, is its inability to serve as a Commander in the Nikon Advanced Wireless Lighting System. Mount an SB-800, and that limitation can be overcome, but you'd do better to purchase a Nikon D80 if you want to employ the Nikon Advanced Wireless Lighting System, because each SB-800 will run about $320-$400. (The increase in street price when going from a D60 to a D80 is currently about $300, and you get a lot of other camera features rolled into the deal as well.)

Image quality. As with the D40x, it's the Nikon D60's excellent image quality that makes recommending this digital SLR so easy. See the Exposure and Optics tabs for the full story. Most impressive about the D40x was that Nikon managed to improve on the D40's already exceptional high-ISO performance. We were a little disappointed to see that the D60's images show a bit more noise at ISO 1,600 than did the D40x, but then realized that Nikon changed the default noise-reduction setting on the D60. The D40x had its high-ISO noise reduction option set to On by default, but the D60's setting defaults to Off. Nikon also seems to have tweaked their noise reduction algorithms a little, to leave in a bit more noise, but also a bit more subject detail at high ISOs. So even with the high-ISO noise reduction option enabled, the D60's images are a bit noisier than those from the D40x, but it does a bit better job at preserving subtle subject detail.

Regardless of the noise setting, overall noise levels are quite low: Owners will be able to make great-looking 8x10 prints from ISO 1,600 shots captured with their Nikon D60s. As we mentioned above though, a huge plus for the D60 is the Vibration Reducing lens that comes standard on it. This will let you get sharp images with shutter speeds from two to four times slower than with a non-VR lens. While you still have to worry about blur from subject motion, the VR lens will make it practical to shoot at ISO 800 or even 400 in situations where you'd otherwise really need the shutter speeds afforded by ISO 1,600. Bottom line, the Nikon D60 is an excellent camera for use in situations with limited lighting.

In common with the D40x, the Nikon D60's default color settings produce very bright, saturated images. How you feel about this will depend on your personal tastes. Most consumers like really bright, saturated color. If that describes you, you'll be entirely happy with the images the Nikon D60 produces. Personally, both of us prefer something a bit less saturated. Fortunately, the D60 offers some accommodation in this area. Optimize Image is the first option on the Shooting menu. Select it, scroll down to the Custom option, and select that. Drop down to Saturation and select "- Moderate". Be sure to scroll back up and click the OK button on the "Done" option, to register the change. The result will be more natural-looking photos, with colors closer to real life. We like the results quite a bit, they coincide with our personal preferences pretty well. It'd be nice though, to see more steps here, to let users tune the look of the D60's images a bit more finely.

One area where the Nikon D60 didn't quite measure up to the performance of the D40x was in its dynamic range (the range of light to dark values that it can distinguish): When we ran our Imatest "deep analysis," which we usually reserve for SLRs, we found its dynamic range consistently measured about a half-stop less than that of the D40x. That said, it does quite well on this score compared to almost all of its competition. Of all the cameras we've tested to date, the only ones that beat it are the Rebel XSi in its default mode, which has Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer turned on), the D40x, the Fuji S3 Pro, and the Canon EOS-5D. (It serves noting that the Canon Rebel XSi comes in about a quarter-stop behind the D60 when the ALO option is disabled.) So the Nikon D60 is no slouch, its dynamic range stacks up with the best of the best: It's just that the D40x was really extraordinary in this regard.

That said though, we did find that in practice, the D60 tended to lose highlight detail a little early under contrasty lighting: It seems that a lot of its dynamic range capability comes at the lower end of the tone scale. In other words, if you're faced with really strong highlights, underexpose to hold onto detail in them: You'll be able to pull quite a bit of detail back up out of the shadows in the image.

See the Optics and Exposure tabs for the rest on the Nikon D60. In short, though, the D60 is a camera you can buy with confidence and be sure you'll love the pictures. (We said the same thing about the D40x, it holds equally true for the D60.)

Comparisons




Nikon D60 vs Canon XSi. D60: 126 x 94 x 64mm, 544g. XSi: 128.8 x 97.5 x 61.9mm, 539g.





Nikon D60 vs Olympus E-420. D60: 126 x 94 x 64mm, 544g. E-420: 129.5 x 91 x 53mm, 453g.

Since we reviewed the D40x, the list of competing cameras in the "compact SLR" category has continued to grow. The Olympus E-410, even smaller than the Nikon D60, has now been followed by the E-420, and the Rebel XTi has now been replaced by the XSi, with closely similar dimensions. Other consumer SLRs, like the Sony A350 and Pentax K200D are only a little larger.

The Nikon D60 appears to compete well against the new Canon Digital Rebel XSi, despite the fact that the XSi sports a considerably higher price tag. The XSi does have areas in which it bests the Nikon D60, perhaps most noticeably in high-ISO image quality: Both cameras have very similar noise levels, but the D60 trades off more subtle subject detail to achieve its low noise figures. The XSi also has 20% more pixels in its sensor, but that difference frankly isn't all that significant: It amounts to only about a 10% difference in inherent resolution, so probably isn't enough by itself to shift the choice toward the Canon. Other notable strengths of the XSi are its more sophisticated 9-point AF array that works better under low light conditions and full compatibility with Canon's entire line of EOS lenses dating back to 1989. One advantage the XTi had over the Nikon D40x is now removed, in that the D60 now has a dust removal system as well. (In our experience though, dust-removal systems work better as marketing points than they do as truly useful photographic tools: You're eventually going to have to clean your sensor anyway, regardless of whether your camera sports "dust removal" technology or not.)

In terms of image quality, you'll get excellent photos from either camera. At their default settings, the Canon Rebel XSi is noticeably more conservative in terms of saturation and contrast than the Nikon D60, but as noted, either camera's contrast and saturation can be tailored to better match personal preferences. Like the D40x, the Nikon D60 also offers ISO 3,200, one stop more than the XSi will deliver. Below we've cropped from our Still Life shots taken at ISO 1,600 to give a closer look at the two approaches to high ISO images. Both will make great prints and deliver a lot more than any digicam (non-SLR) of comparable resolution, so what you see below does not take away from the overall quality that both cameras capture.

Canon Rebel XSi, high ISO noise reduction off
Nikon D60, noise reduction off
Canon Rebel XSi, high ISO noise reduction on
Nikon D60, noise reduction on
Different approaches. Here at ISO 1,600, the highest that the XSi and D60 have in common, you can see the two different approaches to maintaining a quality image at high ISO settings. In each group of four images, the top two show results from the Canon XSi, the pair below below the Nikon D60. Different eyes will see each image differently. In darker areas, the XSi generally works harder to smooth out the luminance (brightness) noise, but at a slight cost to detail (somewhat made up for by its slightly higher resolution. In lighter areas though, its images hold more contrast and sharpness. Its default noise reduction leaves more chroma (color) noise in the image than the D60's does. at their high noise-reduction settings though, both do a good job of flattening chroma noise, with otherwise somewhat similar results in darker and highlight areas.

In the left image, color and contrast are more pumped in the Nikon image, which tends to reveal the anti-noise processing around the edges of the peppers. Likewise, the orange leaves on the cloth in the background are brighter, but with less tonal range than in the Canon image. Most photographers who post-process their images on a computer would be drawn to the Canon XSi's images, because they have software that can make more of the image than the Nikon D60's bundled software did. But truthfully, the Nikon D60 image will print a little better, appearing more bold and sharp up to about 11x14.



As mentioned above, the other similar-sized camera the Nikon D60 competes with is the Olympus E-420. Here, the E-420 is priced a good hundred dollars below the D60 (using "street" prices for comparison), so the E-420 could make a compelling case for a photographer on a budget. The E-420 also includes the increasingly popular Live View option, that lets you use the camera's rear-panel LCD screen as a viewfinder. This is a comforting, familiar mode for users stepping up from point & shoot cameras, as it lets them shoot with their SLR in the same way they've become accustomed to with their digicams. The drawback is that Live View mode on the E-420 also means considerably slower shutter response, putting you back digicam-level capability when it comes to capturing fast-breaking action. That said though, Live View is a very popular SLR feature these days.

Olympus E-420, default noise reduction
Nikon D60, noise reduction off
Olympus E-420, default noise reduction
(Saturation and sharpening adjusted to approximate D60's)
Different approaches, Round II. Here again, ISO 1,600 is the highest that the E-420 and D60 have in common, things look somewhat reminiscent of the comparison against the Canon XSi above. Saturation is lower in the E-420 shot (which tends to help image noise a fair bit), and the E-420's shot is also somewhat softer, which does a lot to mask what noise is there. To the eye, the D60 shows a bit more noise in shadow areas, and more noise artifacts around the edges of the peppers on the left, but also delivers a much crisper, punchier-looking photo. When you sharpen and bump up the color saturation of the E-420's images in Photoshop (as seen in the third pair of crops, at the bottom), the noise rises to a similar level to that in the D60's image, but with somewhat less detail in the orange leaves in the swatch of cloth at the left. As of this writing, we hadn't shot still life examples with the E-420's high-ISO noise filtering enabled, so can't show you a comparison of images with the higher filtering settings.

Overall, the Olympus E-420 does a surprisingly credible job given its smaller sensor, but most consumers would probably feel that the Nikon D60 carries the day, thanks to its sharper, more vibrant images, particularly when looking at printed results.

Olympus has come a long way in extracting more data and less noise from the smaller sensors of the Four-Thirds format used in their SLRs. That said, we think the Nikon D60 still holds an edge over the Olympus E-420 in image quality. Comparing ISO 1,600 shots from the two cameras, the images from the E-420 are somewhat less saturated, with less sharpening applied in-camera. As a result, they look smoother and a bit softer than images from the D60. When we boosted the saturation and sharpening to match the D60's images, noise rose to similar levels, but we felt the D60 retained a bit more detail. Also, while a bit contrasty itself, the D60's tonal scale is much more manageable than that of the E-420. Some of the choice between these two cameras will depend on whether you prefer the brighter color of the D60 or the more technically accurate but duller-looking color of the E-420. Color rendering (and noise levels, for that matter) are very much matters of personal preference, so you'll need to let your eyes be your guide in this regard. For our part, we'd say that the Nikon D60 delivers better-looking images, albeit at a price that's a hundred dollars higher, and without the allure of a Live View feature.

Appraisal. Like the D40x before it, the Nikon D60 is a real gem. Consumers should want one, intermediate photographers should want one, and pros would do well to carry one too. The Nikon D60 is one of the finest "family" cameras on the market, easily upholding the standards of its predecessors, which is a tall order.

As with the D40x, we've both really enjoyed shooting with the D60, to the point that we'd seriously consider it as a second camera to something like a D80 or D300. Those cameras are great for more serious work, but they're also bigger and heavier. The D60 is a camera for capturing fun and family. It's purpose-built for doing just that. And you can still slap high quality glass on it and shoot with the pros anytime you like. The Nikon D60 is perfect for dropping into a small daypack for a hike or picnic, and isn't a tedious weight hanging from a neckstrap. It doesn't take a lot of space, and it comes out of the bag quickly. It focuses and shoots so quietly, you're less likely to scare the animals you're trying to capture.

Intermediate photographers wanting a camera to start a business on a budget should look to the Nikon D80, as it has features that make it more suited for professional photography. Those who already own a bagful of Nikon glass should look instead to the D80 or D300, because they'll want to use that fine Nikkor equipment as long as they can. But if you're just getting started in SLR photography and want a light, sweet, competent, and downright friendly digital SLR, the Nikon D60 is a superb choice.

 

In the Box

The Nikon D60 kit ships with the following items in the box:

  • Nikon D60 body
  • AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens
  • Body cap
  • Front lens cap
  • Camera strap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • Rubber eyecup
  • USB cable
  • Quick charger (MH-23)
  • AC power cord
  • Li-ion battery (EN-EL9)
  • Accessory shoe cover
  • Lens cap
  • PictureProject CD ROM
  • Quick start guide
  • Instruction manual
  • Warranty and registration card

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD memory card. These days, a 2GB or 4GB card is inexpensive enough
  • Camera case for protection
  • Accessory lenses
  • Accessory flash: SB-400, SB-600, SB-800

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Nikon D60 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Smallest Nikon SLR (tied with D40, D40x), great for travel and all-day carry
  • Quiet shutter and AF operation: a very "polite" camera
  • New kit lens has good optical quality, better than average for kit lenses
  • New kit lens offers VR (image stabilization)
  • Great dynamic range, among the best we've seen
  • Excellent high-ISO performance
  • Active D-Lighting (brought over from the D300) is a worthwhile feature
  • Very well laid-out controls, fewer buttons yet still plenty of depth
  • Eye sensors under viewfinder automatically turn off LCD display when you bring the camera to your eye
  • Fast AF system, good shutter response
  • Three frames/second JPEG shooting for up to 100 shots with fast memory cards (but with specific settings only; enabling AF, using shutter speeds below 1/250 will slow frame rate, ISOs of 800 and higher will drastically reduce buffer depth.)
  • AF system works down to very low light levels, even without the AF-assist light
  • Bright AF-assist lamp does not require flash to be deployed
  • Integration of info display and function menu is superb: Easy for a beginner, handy for a pro
  • LCD display is very well organized and informative, auto rotates; 2.5" screen is excellent
  • Manual focusing made easier with camera's "Rangefinder" display indicating correct focus
  • Kit lens focuses down to 11 inches at any focal length
  • New automated dust-removal system
  • Bright LED AF zone indicators in viewfinder display
  • Accurate and consistent metering, works to very low light levels (but only in manual mode at the darkest levels)
  • Nikon 3D matrix metering produces very accurate flash exposures
  • 1/200 x-sync speed for flash shots
  • Grip is comfortable for a wide range of hand sizes
  • Mechanical shutter eliminates streaking of very strong highlights caused by CCD "gating" technique used in D40, D50, and D70
  • Programmable function button is very handy, nice that it's on the left side of the body, making it easier to manipulate command dial at the same time
  • Playback zoom operation is very convenient
  • Playback display is very fast, refreshes quickly as you scroll through captured images
  • In-camera "retouch" menu is unique, permits significant image adjustment without resorting to the computer
  • Able to "develop" RAW-format images into JPEG files in-camera
  • Four-way controller disc works well
  • Strap eyelets are recessed, won't gouge your hand when holding the camera
  • Adjustable auto-off timers are a nice touch, surprising to find on an entry-level SLR
  • Extensive custom function menu, way ahead of most entry-level DSLRs
  • Digital "image overlay" permits creative multiple-exposure shots
  • New Stop-Action movie mode is a lot of fun (great with kids!)
  • Very fast downloads to a computer
  • Optional wireless remote control transmitter available
  • Only 3 AF regions
  • Auto white balance setting doesn't handle household incandescent lighting well
  • No auto exposure bracketing
  • No Live View mode
  • We'd like to see more gradations in color saturation adjustment
  • Chromatic aberration somewhat high at wide angle
  • No Autofocus with non AF-S lenses
  • Limited support for older, non-CPU lenses
  • LCD status display is faster in "Graphic" mode, but still slow in "Classic" mode, lags behind actual camera settings when rotating command dial (optical viewfinder readout is fast and accurate though)
  • AF assist lamp may be blocked by your fingers when holding the camera
  • At 1/200 sec, flash sync speed has been reduced from 1/500 sec of D40 (but no smearing of bright light sources as on D40)
  • Grip may be a little small for some users
  • AF point is easily changed accidentally by hitting the four-way control pad while shooting
  • Dioptric adjustment of viewfinder optics is awkward to set, has somewhat limited range
  • Battery charger requires large external cord, just one thing more to lug along on a trip
  • No battery grip or option (yet, at least - there are contacts in the battery compartment for one, just none offered.)
  • No in-camera support for Nikon Advanced Wireless Lighting System (does work with SB-800 on the camera as a controller though)
  • Kit lens does not come with hood
  • RAW+JPEG option only offers basic-quality JPEGs
  • Bundled software gives only limited processing options for RAW conversion

 

With the D60, Nikon continues what's been an exceptionally successful line of cameras reaching back to the D40 (which is still widely available in the market as of this writing (June, 2008) at very low prices). As a follow-on to the D40x, the Nikon D60 maintains most of the same specs and features, but adds a number of minor features in the camera body and a new, better-quality VR (vibration reduction) kit lens, all at a list price $50 lower than its predecessor.

The Nikon D60 is a natural fit in most hands. Its controls are where they should be for easy use, and the D60 is a well-behaved guest at parties with its pleasantly soft shutter sound. A big, bright LCD is great for reviewing photos from a wide variety of angles; and Nikon's added the eye detection we asked for in our D40x review, to turn off the LCD when you bring the viewfinder to your eye.

Existing Nikon owners should be careful to note that like the D40 and D40x, the Nikon D60 can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. Those who want to attach a short, fast prime (non-zoom) lens for indoor low-light shooting should also note that Nikon doesn't currently make any such lenses in AF-S. The good news, however, is that the Nikon D60's low light performance at ISO 1,600 is excellent, even without noise reduction turned on. It's so good that we don't really feel like we're pushing the D60 until we jump into the "expanded" territory of ISO 3,200.

The upgraded kit lens has eliminated one our few areas of disappointment with the D40x: The lens on the Nikon D60 is noticeably better optically, and includes Nikon's excellent VR (vibration reduction) technology in the bargain. There's still a bit more chromatic aberration at the wide angle end than we'd like to see but the earlier kit lens's issues with flare seem to be entirely banished.

No matter how you look at it, the Nikon D60 stands up well against the competition, with great image quality at all speeds, and near-perfect utility as a family camera. Its very fun to use (your kids will have a blast with its stop-action animation feature), polite, attractive, and well-built; just the kind of companion you want to have along on your next family outing. The Nikon D60 still doesn't really obsolete the D40, which we continue to recommend strongly and list as a Dave's Pick, but it's a bet better in a few key areas, and offers a range of added features: High praise indeed. Own either and you'll know why we've made the Nikon D60 a Dave's Pick.


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